Thursday, June 30, 2011

Surf n' Turf Tacos

Every once in a while, I'll pull out all my old cooking magazines I've bought and start perusing to see if there are any recipes that I remember sounding interesting, but never got around to making.

The hubby and I were trying to plan out meals for the week, and were eternally stuck on what we should do, other than our 'Pasta Wednesday.'  Thankfully, I have a pretty good arsenal of cooking magazines, spanning each of the four seasons, so I pulled out a few of my summer-themed magazines to see if anything sounded tasty.

Leave it to Rachel Ray to have a delicious recipe in her magazine. I hate to say that I find her a little over-the-top on her two cooking shows (I don't watch her talk show), but whenever I come across her recipes, I usually find something quick, easy and delicious. Thank goodness for magazines and! I can search her recipes without actually having to watch a whole episode!

These tacos are light, yet filling, and very flavorful, even with the seemingly few spices. We even had some leftovers, which I then made into a breakfast burrito the next morning. Ah-mazing!

Whip up a batch of these for summer, and you won't be disappointed. You might even feel like you took a little trip to somewhere a little more tropical than your backyard or dining room table!

Surf 'n' Turf Tacos

Adapted Slightly From Rachel Ray Magazine
Serves 8

1 small head napa cabbage, chopped
Juice of 6 limes (about 1/2 cup)
2 cups sour cream
Sixteen 6-inch flour tortillas
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound trimmed flank steak, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound red snapper fillets, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips (I used Cod)
1 cup store-bought guacamole, plus more for serving
One 16-ounce jar salsa, for serving

In a large bowl, toss the cabbage with half of the lime juice. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream and remaining lime juice. Cover and refrigerate.

Preheat the oven to 250°. Spread the tortillas on a baking sheet, cover with foil and warm in the oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the garlic powder, paprika, cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and 2 teaspoons salt. Add the steak, tossing to coat.

In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup oil over medium-high heat until rippling. Add the steak, lower the heat to medium and cook, turning occasionally, until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large plate. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the skillet. Season the fish lightly with salt and pepper (Note: I also added a little cayenne pepper and cumin). Cook, in the skillet, turning once, until golden, about 5 minutes.

Lay the tortillas on a work surface. Spread 1 tablespoon guacamole on each, then top with some of the cabbage. Divide the meat among 8 tortillas and the fish among 8 tortillas. Fold to form tacos. Serve with more guacamole and cabbage, the lime-sour cream and the salsa.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Happy Father's Day!

I know it's a little late in the day, but I wanted to wish a very Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there! I would like to send a special wish to my very own dad, who has been a constant source of strength, encouragement and inspiration to me throughout the years.

I am also very blessed to have a wonderful father-in-law, too, who has been there for me and helped out when we've needed an extra hand around the house during our whole renovation period.

My dad has always been a huge fan of camping and all things outdoors, so cast iron skillets are always high on his list of 'favorite kitchen items.' Recently, my parents renovated their kitchen, and that renovation included a new, glass-top stove. Imagine my dad's dismay when he realized that every movement of his beloved cast-iron skillet risked scratching their brand new stovetop. He knew that he would not be able to use his cast-iron skillet for everyday cooking anymore.

While planning thier last trip to Chicago, my parents asked if I would want them to bring the skillet. As much as I'm sure he hated to say goodbye to his skillet, I was giddy at the thought of finally having my first piece of cast iron! And what better way to celebrate a well-seasoned cast iron skillet than to make a super-sticky, super caramelly pineapple upside down cake.

Using fresh pineapple and making it in a cast iron skillet gives this cake a taste far superior than the others I have made in the past. The best part is that this skillet is so well-seasoned that even the stickest of sugar refused to stick. Cleanup was a breeze!

Even though I didn't have cardamom as called for in the original recipe, the allspice/cinnamon combination I substituted with was delicious. It was a bit like a spice cake with a sweet, fruity, caramel topping.

Only after I baked the cake did I realize that I baked mine in an 11 1/4" cast iron skillet, not 10 inches like it calls for in the recipe. Thankfully, I checked my cake early, and I'm glad I did, because it finished 15 minutes or so earlier than the recipe called for since the batter spread thinner in the larger skillet.

It was absolutely delicious! I can't wait to make this again, and even the hubby said this was my best pineapple upside down cake, yet!


Hope all the daddies out there had a fabulous Father's Day!! You deserve it!

Pineapple Upside Down Cake
Adapted Slightly From

For topping:
1/2 medium pineapple, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and cored
3/4 stick unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

For batter:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon dark rum
1/2 cup unsweetened pineapple juice
2 tablespoons dark rum for sprinkling over cake

Special equipment:
a well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Make topping:
Cut pineapple crosswise into 3/8-inch-thick pieces. Melt butter in skillet. Add brown sugar and simmer over moderate heat, stirring, 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Arrange pineapple on top of sugar mixture in concentric circles, overlapping pieces slightly.

Make batter:
Sift together flour, cardamom, baking powder, and salt. Beat butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, then gradually beat in granulated sugar. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and rum. Add half of flour mixture and beat on low speed just until blended. Beat in pineapple juice, then add remaining flour mixture, beating just until blended. (Batter may appear slightly curdled.)

Spoon batter over pineapple topping and spread evenly. Bake cake in middle of oven until golden and a tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cake stand in skillet 5 minutes. Sprinkle rum over the cake and let it absorb. Invert a plate over skillet and invert cake onto plate (keeping plate and skillet firmly pressed together). Replace any pineapple stuck to bottom of skillet.

Serve cake just warm or at room temperature. (With a scoop of vanilla ice cream!)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Citrus-glazed salmon with spinach

Summer is in full-swing now, and the hubby and I are constantly trying to find meals that require very little oven time. Our house is quirky, in that the downstairs is usually always comfortable in the summer, but the upstairs can have major temperature swings, especially when the oven and/or stove are on for long periods of time.

Of course, our thermostat is right outside the kitchen, so when I'm baking or cooking a lot on the stove, even if it isn't that hot outside, our A/C turns on in full force.

This salad was perfect for one of these days. It requires near-minimal time on the stovetop/under the broiler, and you could even just use the grill outside to make the salmon. 

The other incentive for this recipe was the sheer amount of spinach we always seem to have around. When I make a recipe that calls for spinach, the only thing we can find are 4 pound bags of the stuff. Four pounds of spinach for four people is a lot! So I make spinach salads, throw spinach in pretty much anything I can (mac and cheese, pasta, chicken dishes) and I try to find recipes that use it as a main ingredient. The fates aligned when I saw this recipe in that week's issue of the Tribune.

This meal was light and refreshing, and the grapefruit provided a nice zing that cut through the sturdy flavor of the salmon. 

This is one dinner you won't have to sweat over!

Citrus-Glazed Salmon with Spinach

1 large ruby red grapefruit
12 to 16 ounces fresh spinach
3/4 cup white balsamic vinegar, or white wine vinegar with a touch of honey
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
4 salmon fillets or steaks, about 4 ounces each
1 medium shallot, finely chopped

1. Peel and section grapefruit over a bowl, catching the juice; you'll need about 1/4 cup. Dice grapefruit segments; place segments and spinach in a large bowl.

2. Combine 2 tablespoons grapefruit juice, 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl. Arrange salmon on a plate; pour 1/2 cup vinaigrette over salmon (reserving remaining vinaigrette). Let stand 15-20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, heat broiler. Line a broiler pan or shallow baking pan with foil; brush with oil. Remove salmon from marinade, discarding marinade; place salmon in pan. Broil 8 to 10 minutes.

4. To dress spinach, put reserved vinaigrette in a heavy saucepan; reduce slightly over medium-high heat. Mix remaining 2 tablespoons grapefruit juice, 1/4 cup vinegar and 1 tablespoon oil in a bowl with the shallots and reduced vinaigrette. Pour over spinach; toss to coat. Divide spinach among four dinner plates; top with salmon.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Summer Orzo Salad

Summer school has been such a refreshing experience. Not easy, though. I'm taking 11 credits this summer, aka 3 classes. One is a 4-week intense class, and the other two are 8-week classes. I'm doing well (thankfully), but that means there is a lot of classwork (lecture and online stuff), lots of homework and LOTS of studying. It's been a long time since I've had to study. Right now it's about rough endoplasmic reticulum, eukaryotes and meiosis/mitosis.

And yesterday (pardon if it's tmi) but we had an explosively sick puppy yesterday. I had my biology class, and came home after about an hour of studying so I could get lunch and let the puppy out (I had a bio midterm this morning). I was sitting down upstairs, and all of a sudden I hear our puppy getting sick on the chair upstairs. Then on the floor, and the rug. I quick rushed him outside, but of course he was done. I put him in his crate to keep him from getting too worked up, and then had the glorious job of cleaning all of the mess up. (I'm pretty sure the chair is beyond salvage. Darn.) I had to leave again for another class in the afternoon, the whole time feeling so sorry that I had to leave a sick puppy behind. Thankfully he was ok in the two hours I was gone. We kept him off food for the last 24 hours, and tonight just reintroduced him to a small portion of his food. So far, so good. And I think I did well on my test (thank goodness I studied the past few days as well and didn't save it until the last minute!) So, if you have any spare vibes for the puppy, we could sure use them!

So if you have happened to notice slight downward trend of posting, that's why. (And also tuition/books really tends to cut into the 'baking for fun' budget!) I haven't stopped baking or cooking, don't get me wrong, but most of the time when I would be posting, I am studying or doing homework. These classes go so fast that it's near-impossible to catch back up after getting behind. My bio class ends in two weeks, so hopefully I'll have a little bit more free time with only two classes to manage!

I also now have a part time job in retail to start bringing in some extra bucks, so, while that has been fun, it's also one more thing to consider! Whew!

Anyway, there are days I don't really feel like making anything too complicated - I think you can see why now. This orzo salad is delicious and cool, perfect for these days where it is still 95 degrees at 7:30 pm. Like tonight. Craziness. If you notice, I went a little crazy with the feta - that's how much I love cheese. You don't have to put that much on!

Long gone are the days of heavy, mayonnaise-laden pasta salad made with elbow noodles, sitting on the picnic table under the sweltering sun. It seems that now, pasta salads are more and more taking advantage of the abundance of fresh and healthy ingredients available in the summer with only the lightest of oil and balsamic dressings serving only to enhance the natural flavors. This orzo salad has wonderfully fresh and light flavors, the basil adds a bright punch of flavor and the mint plays wonderfully off the sweetness of the tomatoes and the acidity of the balsamic. Even the textures in the salad were interesting. The red onion provided a slight crunch, the garbanzo beans were firm yet buttery little nuggets contrasting the softness of the tomatoes and orzo. I kept the salt at a minimum in the salad because the feta itself has a decent saltiness to it.

Summer Orzo Salad

4 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups orzo
1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups red and yellow teardrop tomatoes or grape tomatoes, halved
3/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper
a few tbsp crumbled feta
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp salt
a few pinches freshly ground black pepper

Bring the broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the orzo and cook until tender, stirring frequently, about 9 minutes. Drain then transfer to a large bowl and cool completely.

Add the onion, beans, tomato, mint, and basil, toss well, and season with a pinch or two of salt and pepper.

Mix in dressing. Serve with a little feta sprinkled over the top.
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